Immediate Communication

Molecular Psychiatry (2004) 9, 833–845. doi:10.1038/sj.mp.4001529 Published online 8 June 2004

Neurotoxic effects of postnatal thimerosal are mouse strain dependent

M Hornig1, D Chian1 and W I Lipkin1,2

  1. 1Jerome L and Dawn Greene Infectious Disease Laboratory, Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA
  2. 2Departments of Neurology and Pathology, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY, USA

Correspondence: M Hornig, Jerome L and Dawn Greene Infectious Disease Laboratory, Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, 722 West 168th Street, 18th Floor, New York, NY 10032 USA. E-mail: mady.hornig@columbia.edu

Received 2 February 2004; Revised 29 April 2004; Accepted 4 May 2004; Published online 8 June 2004.

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Abstract

The developing brain is uniquely susceptible to the neurotoxic hazard posed by mercurials. Host differences in maturation, metabolism, nutrition, sex, and autoimmunity influence outcomes. How population-based variability affects the safety of the ethylmercury-containing vaccine preservative, thimerosal, is unknown. Reported increases in the prevalence of autism, a highly heritable neuropsychiatric condition, are intensifying public focus on environmental exposures such as thimerosal. Immune profiles and family history in autism are frequently consistent with autoimmunity. We hypothesized that autoimmune propensity influences outcomes in mice following thimerosal challenges that mimic routine childhood immunizations. Autoimmune disease-sensitive SJL/J mice showed growth delay; reduced locomotion; exaggerated response to novelty; and densely packed, hyperchromic hippocampal neurons with altered glutamate receptors and transporters. Strains resistant to autoimmunity, C57BL/6J and BALB/cJ, were not susceptible. These findings implicate genetic influences and provide a model for investigating thimerosal-related neurotoxicity.

Keywords:

autistic disorder, thimerosal, neurotoxicity, autoimmunity, inbred mouse strains

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